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Do You Live Alone

Elisabeth Harvor
From:   Fortress of Chairs. Vehicule Press, 1992

The next time
some stranger asks you Do you live alone?
you swear you will answer with the

perfect answer, the answer you vow will become
the one answer and the final answer

the final answer and
the one answer

the one answer and no other,
as long as you both--both you
and your aloneness--shall live

But then time passes and
there are weeks and weeks when you feel invisible
and even old or on the edge of old,

peering down into it, but by now it's
turned itself into a treacherous ravine out of a storybook
of childhood, implacable rock face topped with

grass oiled by the sun, the high sky poison blue,
your physiological ration of magic
used up, used up,

nothing to save you the days you feel
drugged by how little you matter to anyone,
(your children grown)

afternoons of old snow crust,
dimly veiled and dotted by soot, snowbanks

pocked with hard dirt flung by cars racing
daylight and you in your high boots and short gloves,

your nights brilliant, snowless, your bared wrists
handcuffed by the stilled cold, flocks of Christmas lights,
miniature bottles and nipples of clear glass turned into

small birds on delicate fire in the bare branches of trees
outside houses where families or
people in love live. And then--and it's always

when you least expect it, also always
a man you don't want to be asked it by—you will be asked
Do you live alone? Where do you live? Why won't you tell me
where you live? All this will be on the subway platform,

the train will rush its winter wind
into the station, your heart will be knuckled,
danced with jugged blood,

your interrogator will loom up
to give off a threatening aroma of new
and chilled nylon parka, also something sour

in the eyes, in the breath,
as if his heart has sunk to his bowels and is
rotting down there. You will tell yourself that

men you could love never ask you the alone-question,
only their eyes ask it and never stop asking it
the first time you meet. They are the ones

you are remembering now, their
shy urgency, the times you hurt their feelings
by not knowing what to say either,

the times you were cold to them,
and it will seem to you then that
the big man in the parka is a bouncer from Fate,

come down the windy escalator
to tell you your time is up where men
you could love are concerned,
no more second chances. You are down here now,

you are down under
the thundering ground,
you will move away, you will

turn your face into a face
that is all profile,
you will

force your eyes to fall
into instant love with a sad and invented
high-class horizon; still, the big man will follow you,

his breath
hunting for space in the bared well
at the exposed nape of your neck.

Stale ownership!
You will plunge into the train to escape it,

you will capture
a seat beside a young mother and her baby.
Home free, and turned into a child again by the seedy
sleight-of-hand of life in the city.

On this swinging winter train,
only the baby will seem to be happy. Lying on his back
on his mother's lap he will kick open her mohair coat
with his boots, will pull on the beaded

reins of her necklace to yank her smile
down to his laughter. You will smile too, as if in throwing
your sad pursuer off the scent you have outwitted

dying. To be home again!
And then you are, you are bathing your closed eyes
in the sweet steam from a cup of green tea.

There are times when, above all things,
you value it.

Times you forget to remember
the times you are wrapped up solemn and high
in all your aloneness like some dignified female

chieftain of sorrow,
the times just before you are thrown up against
the wall of the question Do you live alone?

and your eyes will answer for you--
the language of the eyes being,
in such a case, a ratatat whimper:

I live alone
I live alone
I live alone
I live alone

Elisabeth Harvor's works copyright © to the author.

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